Of the numerous Indigenous Jerseys that the Sydney Roosters have proudly worn, Jason Ridgeway's inspired design is one that would make even the late great Arthur Beetson look down with a beaming smile.
From a young aspiring artist to becoming the chief designer of the Club's 2021 Indigenous Jersey, Jason's story is one of overcoming hardship and expressing both his creativity and his love for the Roosters, with his dream now realised after a chance meeting with Trent Robinson.
Whilst visiting fire-affected areas in late 2019 as the disastrous bushfires tore through New South Wales, Robinson and members of NRL squad visited a number of rural communities, finding themselves at Macleay Vocational College in Kempsey where they met Jason and his family.
From there, the idea blossomed and the pair went back and forth to plan out the design for the Club's 2021 Indigenous Jersey.
Jason - a proud Dunghutti man whose family history has spanned over six generations in the Kempsey area - says his artwork took inspiration from both his family as well as his passion for the Tricolours.
“At school, I was always artistic, but had only done sketching and drawing, that kind of stuff," he explained.
“About six years ago I lost my little sister to suicide and I began painting as a bit of a coping mechanism. I kept going with it and have gotten a bit of success from it so I’ve kept at it.
“I was sitting down with my wife and Trent came up to us and we started talking. It felt like it was meant to be, I guess.
"I showed him my artwork and said I might be interested in designing the Indigenous Jersey at some point in the future. He gave me his email and we just went from there."
When it comes to the Indigenous Jersey's design, Jason brought together the Club's heartland in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs along with stability and protection of the moon as his main source of inspiration, whilst also putting his own personal touch, all the while incorporating the famous Red, White and Blue.
“We went back and forth with a few different ideas," Jason explained.
“We came up with the idea of doing up a map of the Eastern Suburbs, to represent the Roosters’ heartland area.
“We’ve put in some meeting places, some walking tracks and the landscape in the middle, which is a big thing for me - it’s my headspace for artwork. I pretty much add in those landscapes in all of my artwork, it’s another coping mechanism, it’s a thinking place.
“With the moon, up in our area, we have a lot of different beliefs and stories that have happened during night time and it gives that sense of stability and protection.
“It was great seeing people like Trent and the boys give people a positive mindset of being able to rebuild their lives after the disaster and to give them a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Since I started painting, I’ve always wanted to be a part of it with Indigenous Round coming up each year."
It is our way to continue to push forward our understanding, our support and our acknowledgement of the first nations people. I think that’s important from a sporting landscape, but it’s also bigger than sport, and we’ve got to put that at the forefront.Trent Robinson On the importance of Indigenous Round
Needless to say, the Roosters' Head Coach is thrilled with the jersey his side will wear against the Canberra Raiders at Central Coast Stadium in Round 12 and expressed how impressed he was with Jason's ability to combine culture and community into the design.
“Someone turned to me and mentioned he was the best artist in the area as I sat down to have lunch with his wife and his family," Robinson said of his first meeting with Jason.
“We were talking about where he was from, his family, the area and his art and I looked down and saw he was wearing a Roosters watch on his wrist.
“He didn’t say anything about it. He didn’t say he was a fan or anything, he was just a quiet humble guy, and from there we got talking.
“I noticed a couple of things; I knew he was passionate about the school and the area which was important, I knew he was a family man, and I knew he was a Roosters supporter.
“I asked him to send an email with some art and that’s how we got started and that’s how he’s been able to design the jersey, which is great.
“I’ve seen a lot of his work, but what he has done is that he has done a lot of the Indigenous artwork from an Eastern Suburbs point of view and a landscape point of view which is quite unique in our area with the coastline. He’s encapsulated that in the artwork."
With Round 12 representing the NRL's Indigenous Round, Robinson believes that it is just the beginning to gain further knowledge, understanding and support of the first nations people.
“There are a couple of things that revolve around Indigenous Round,” he explained.
“We want to celebrate the first nations people, which is really important. One round is almost not enough – we haven’t done enough as a nation yet to acknowledge that.
“Through sport, it’s been quite a wonderful way for us to showcase those talents, but there are many more in the arts, which is why we combine the two on the day and in the jersey.
“It is our way to continue to push forward our understanding, our support and our acknowledgement of the first nations people. I think that’s important from a sporting landscape, but it’s also bigger than sport, and we’ve got to put that at the forefront."
You can own your piece of Roosters history through the Signed Player Issue Jersey Auction of our 2021 Indigenous Jersey starting from 2pm Wednesday, May 26. All proceeds to be donated to proud Premier Partner of the Sydney Roosters, the KARI Foundation.
More Indigenous News and Stories on Roosters.com.au